Theo Adams: More Liza Minnelli than Marilyn Manson
The young men and women in “Performance,” the May portfolio by David Sims, are dressed in jewels and tatters, dripping in glitter and soot, striking poses that are variously exuberant, tragic and disturbing. These unlikely models are the Theo Adams Company, a troupe of dancers, singers, and other theatrical types led by 19-year-old London-based performance artist Theo Adams. The group has drawn a cult following for their raw and dramatic performances, usually conducted late at night in some eerie or overlooked corner of their city. As the mind-boggling photos (and accompanying video) are bound to raise a few questions, we thought it was worth asking Adams for some elaboration.
Is there a story you were trying to tell with the W project?
The performance was, like all my work, an amalgamation of all the different inspirations and visions that spin around in my head. The choreography was driven by a New York Times article from 1904 titled “Woman Danced To Death” [about a woman who succumbed to heart disease during a dance competition at a masquerade ball]. It may sound bleak but to me, it’s also an example of joyous, passionate expression. I had two hugely inspirational guest performers join my company for the shoot. Lorna Luft was there, singing songs that her mother, Judy Garland, had taught her as a child, and Frances Ruffelle came to reprise her Tony-winning performance of “On My Own” from Les Miserables. Mixing these incredible show-stopping performances with the idea of the ultimate showstopper—the woman who danced herself to death—is the core of the W performance. The message: Give it your all.
You are totally vulnerable and naked in your performances. How do you achieve that lack of inhibition?
The stage is the only place I feel comfortable being completely honest. Performance for me is an exorcism of the soul. I always feel a great sense of catharsis afterwards.
Aside from uninhibited, how else would you describe your performances?
All my performances are passionate, celebratory, unhinged, explosive, optimistic and, hopefully, entertaining. Oh—and they usually contain about a ton of glitter.
Where did you find the members of your company?
We are the most twisted family in the world. Some I knew personally before, others are friends of friends. We have people from Japan, Brazil, Poland, Sweden, Ireland… everyone is a huge character but we all gel. Nobody is afraid to bare their souls or dance till they bleed! The bigger the company gets the more we seem to be in rooms together, painting walls with lipstick.
Adams, left, with his sister, Andrea.
And your sister works with your company too?
My sister Andrea helps out behind the scenes at my performances. She is a Cambridge graduate and training to be a lawyer. She’s incredibly organized and unbelievably bossy. I can completely trust her to make sure everything runs smoothly on show days while I have a nervous breakdown on stage.
What’s the deal with your braces?
I got my braces at 14 and decided they were part of me. I was supposed to have them removed years ago. They are no longer moving my teeth but they are here to stay, for the near future anyway. I seem to be drawn to things that are conventionally seen as ugly.
What other elements of your appearance do you consider signature?
Everyday when you wake up you have a choice to make regarding what you wear. It is a creative process. I like things that sparkle and move. I have always been attracted to theatricality. People seem to think I have a gothic aesthetic but I see my image as more Liza Minnelli than Marilyn Manson.
Is there such a thing as a typical day in the life of Theo Adams?
There doesn’t really seem to be a typical day. Although all my days involve a few power ballads and a show tune.
What upcoming projects do you have in the works?
Though I have the most gifted team (incredible performers and musicians, plus the best set designer in the world, David White, who did all the sets for the W project), and though there seems to be interest in what we are doing, I have absolutely no money. I have gotten to this point with no funding, no management—nothing except fantastically supportive friends. There are talks about a world tour of our last show, a film, an album and more, but without backing it gets more difficult as the productions grow bigger.
Are your parents fans of your work?
My parents have never seen any of my performances and don’t really understand what it is that I do. Nothing shocks them though, I was wearing lipstick at 3.
Any current cultural obsessions you’d like to give a shout out to?
It’s not something new—it’s actually over 50 years old: the Eurovision Song Contest, airing next month. It is the most important day of the year for me. You Americans really are deprived of something incredibly magical. YouTube is the answer!